Does the $300 million-grossing ‘Dune’ make Timothée Chalamet a legit movie star?


Warner Brothers/HBO Max

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Few actors are having a better fall season than Timothée Chalamet. He’s the top-billed name of Denis Villenueve’s polarizing epic, “Dune,” and has a nice supporting turn in Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.” He also has a supporting role in Adam McKay’s highly anticipated “Don’t Look Up” this winter on Netflix.

But officially 31 film credits into his career, is Chalamet a legit movie star or still a young actor on the brink waiting for “the” role to come along?

Granted, being in front of an October tentpole release like “Dune” has its perks. This past weekend, the three-hour action-adventure passed the worldwide mark of $300 million at the box office, including $71 in the United States since its simultaneous release via streaming on HBO Max and in theaters on Oct. 22. The take-home was solid enough for Warner Brothers to greenlight a sequel to the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s much-beloved novel, which has three parts. Even better news for Chalamet-whose mother is of Austrian and Russian-Jewish descent-and Villenueve is that the sequel will receive an exclusive theatrical window, meaning it most likely won’t open on streaming the same day as it hits theaters.

While the film was far from perfect, “Dune” was a combination of two large book chapters, with the third part of the novel unfolding in the next film, which is tentatively planned for a Oct. 23, 2023 release. Chalamet’s Paul, the young son of a planet-acquiring family, saw the bulk of the screen time in Villenueve’s film, and should easily see the most time in the sequel. Destined for greatness, will “Dune: Part Two” be the movie that officially puts Chalamet on the stand-alone movie star map, or will it happen in the years leading up to that release?

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While there’s no doubt he is destined for many award nominations and one of the brighter young talents working today, I haven’t left a film yet with Chalamet playing a meaty role where I thought his presence was the make-or-break element of that production. He was magnificent in “Beautiful Boy,” but had great lead support from Steve Carell in that film. His roles with Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird” and “Little Women” were nicely rendered and fit the screenplay, but they didn’t live or die on his performance.

The same could be said for 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name,” which paired him with Armie Hammer (who managed to give a good performance somehow there). Oscar-savvy for sure, but film-carrying wouldn’t exactly fit the bill. The one memorable part of that film was Chalamet’s Elio sitting silent as Michael Stuhlbarg (playing his father) delivered one of the best scenes of the year.

He may dominate the screen timecard in “Dune,” but it’s hard to think no one else could have stepped into that formulaic role of Paul and performed well-enough. While Villenueve said Chalamet was the vital part of his epic film, I disagree after screening the film. The juice in that part shouldn’t arrive for two years, so all fans saw was the latest rendition of the “reluctant-yet-destined-for-greatness” hero trope. Chalamet acquitted himself well but proved that having the biggest head on the movie poster doesn’t exactly determine the best performance.

But what about 2018’s “The King?” The medieval drama co-written and directed by David Michod featured Chalamet as Hal, the young prince who becomes King Henry V after his maddening father passes away suddenly. However, as brooding and capable as he seemed in the role, it was Robert Pattinson who stole the show as The Dauphin. In the meditative (rather than bloody action-packed) drama, it was Pattinson going for broke while Chalamet settled into the starry role in the screenplay. In each of his bigger and well-known films, it’s Chalamet being outshined most times.

The moment could come in the next year, though. Turning 26 two days after Christmas, Chalamet has a starring role in “Wonka,” the latest adaptation/reboot of the famous Chocolate Factory personality. Paul King’s film will focus on a young Willy meeting the Oompa-Loompas on one of his first journeys. The film co-stars Olivia Colman, Matt Lucas, Sally Hawkins and Keegan-Michael Key. Or it could be a reunion with “Call Me by Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino for next year’s “Bones & All,” which doesn’t currently have a precise release date.

Here’s the thing. Chalamet can act with the best of the young souls in Hollywood, but a big movie opening and some fine performances don’t make a true movie star. Tom Cruise couldn’t become legendary until he opened a lot more movies than “Top Gun”, and Will Smith’s box office power was sustained many years after “Independence Day.” Being a great actor is a noble label in Hollywood, but the coveted area of “movie star and great actor” isn’t as easy to find.

The good thing is he’s young, but Chalamet still has work to do in order to climb into the true elite ranks.